TEMPE, Ariz. (AP)The long-term prognosis for the Arizona Cardinals remains encouraging after five games under first-year coach Jonathan Gannon.
But it’s become clear more short-term pain is likely.
The Cardinals fell to 1-4 on Sunday after a 34-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals and the game followed a familiar a pattern.
Arizona played hard, made some big plays and was disciplined for most of the afternoon, only to watch as Cincinnati’s superior talent win most of the one-on-one battles and force some key turnovers in the fourth quarter as the game slipped away.
“We are anxious to flip that script and we will flip the script,” Cardinals quarterback Joshua Dobbs said.
The problem is it’s unclear how that might happen.
Dobbs had a tough second half against the Bengals, finishing 15 of 32 passing for 166 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and one lost fumble. He remains the fill-in starter for the foreseeable future – franchise quarterback Kyler Murray is still recovering from a knee injury suffered last season and hasn’t been activated from the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.
But quarterback is far from Arizona’s only issue.
Starting running back James Conner didn’t play in the second half against the Bengals because of a knee injury and the team’s two starting safeties, Budda Baker and Jalen Thompson, are both dealing with hamstring ailments. Baker is on injured reserve while Thompson was hurt on Sunday.
It’s one reason Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase was able to have a huge game against the Cardinals, piling up a franchise-record 15 catches for 192 yards and three touchdowns.
For his part, Gannon said Chase’s big game was his fault.
“Obviously, as a defensive staff, myself being the leader of that, we didn’t do enough on that side,” Gannon said.
“You can’t let their best player beat you and that’s what we just did. That falls solely on me, and we can’t let that happen again.”
The Cardinals fight. They fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter against the Bengals, only to score the next 14 points and briefly take the lead. Arizona then fell behind 24-14 in the second half before answering again.
Emari Demercado ran for his first NFL touchdown, scoring from 11 yards, to cut the Bengals’ lead to 24-20.
“We’re competitive in every game we’re playing,” Gannon said. “We’ve got to start winning some games.”
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The secondary is struggling. Baker and Thompson are the team’s anchors and two of the team’s top defensive players. The Cardinals had almost no luck wrangling Chase, who seemed as if he was almost always open.
Gannon refused to use the injuries as an excuse.
“Life in the NFL,” Gannon said. “Figure it out.”
Demercado gave the Cardinals a lift after Conner left with his knee injury. The 24-year-old rookie ran for 45 yards on 10 carries, including his 11-yard touchdown.
“Definitely a surreal moment,” he said. “Something you work for your whole life and then you finally get there and finally get to experience that.”
Dobbs has been a capable quarterback throughout the season, but his three lost fumbles this season have proven costly in losses to the Commanders and Bengals.
He threw his first two interceptions of the season on Sunday, including a pick-6.
The 28-year-old quarterback believes he’ll bounce back.
So does Gannon.
“He’s a pro’s pro,” Gannon said. “He’s smart and accountable, wants to win, wants to be out there and affect the game in a positive way, which I think all of our guys do.”
Gannon said Conner (knee) and Thompson (hamstring) were still being evaluated. The Cardinals claimed RB Tony Jones Jr. off waivers on Monday after he was released by the Saints.
6-21 – The Cardinals’ record since starting the 2021 season with a 10-2 mark.
The Cardinals are on the road the next two weeks, starting with a game at the Rams on Sunday.
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